Ada Lovelace Day

Today, 10 October, is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Online, people write blog posts, news columns, Facebook posts and Tweets about the women whose work they admire. And London sees our flagship ‘STEM cabaret’, Ada Lovelace Day Live! at the Royal Institution, featuring talks by some of the UK’s leading researchers, science communicators and experts.

Around the world, people put on events to celebrate and inspire women and girls alike. Many schools take part, bringing a wide variety of activities into the classroom.

Some write articles about notable women or create a school blog to share their stories. Some take a more practical approach, putting on robot demonstrations, coding events, building bridges or extracting DNA. Others invite guest speakers to talk about women in STEM, or ask local STEM women to give talks about their work. Field trips to local labs or universities, and other activities such as book or poster displays, making Ada Lovelace Day badges, or working on colouring sheets, also feature.

The creativity shown by teachers and organisers really knows no bounds, and the opportunity to engage girls in STEM activities, to show them that they do belong in STEM, and to show boys that women can be experts too, is a hugely valuable one. There is nothing quite like taking part in a global event, knowing that there are thousands of people from wildly different places and backgrounds celebrating the day alongside you. It is a fantastic feeling.

But we at Ada Lovelace Day recognise that one day a year is not enough. As valuable as the day itself is, research shows that one-off interventions do not significantly change attitudes. Instead, Ada Lovelace Day should be part of a suite of activities that schools engage in all year round to challenge stereotypes, empower girls, and normalise women’s engagement in STEM.

Some of these year-round interventions are small, such as making sure that lessons include as many mentions of notable women in STEM as men, beyond the ever-present Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale. There are so many amazing stories, such as those of Dr Eugenie Clark, the Shark Lady, or fossil hunter Mary Anning, or astronaut Dr Mae Jemison, that could make their way into lesson plans. And we have many such stories in our two ebooks, A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention and More Passion for Science: Journeys Into the Unknown.

These women don’t need to be kept in a STEM ghetto either. Indeed, our free amigurumi crochet patterns of Clark, Jemison, and the first female Indian doctor Dr Anandibai Joshi, can be used as the basis for history or geography lessons, and for craft clubs. Introducing these women’s stories outside of the STEM context helps to normalise the idea that women have been, can be, and are authorities in these fields.

Teachers need year round support, and so to that end, we have collected online STEM teaching resources in a database, and are constantly adding new sites. We also created an education pack for teachers which includes free downloadable careers posters and teaching scenarios. These resources are as valuable for boys as they are for girls, for it is as important that boys’ learn to challenge stereotypes and accept women in positions of expertise and authority as it is for girls to see their future selves reflected in female role models.

So there’s no need to wait until next year’s Ada Lovelace Day to start getting involved. There’s plenty to get cracking with right now!

About the Author

Suw Charman-Anderson works with Ada Lovelace Day (ALD) is an international celebration day of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM.